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Ballmer, Ellison meet to discuss compatibility

The CEOs of the world's two largest software companies met earlier this month, but the details of their conversation are being kept secret.

The chief executives of the world's two largest software companies recently sat down to chat about interoperability of their respective product lines, but the details of their conversation are being kept secret.

Company representatives confirmed Tuesday a report posted on Fortune magazine's Web site that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer met to discuss interoperability between Windows NT and Oracle's database software.

The two CEOs met in early December at Ballmer's request, according to a Microsoft spokesman, who declined to offer further details on topics the two discussed or how long the meeting lasted.

"Steve tries to meet with as many CEOs as possible on a regular basis," the spokesman said. He added that Ballmer's reason for calling the meeting was to ensure compatibility of the two companies' products in the future.

An Oracle representative confirmed that the two companies have talked regarding the compatibility of Oracle's software with Windows NT, but also declined further comment.

The meeting follows by just a month the latest in a string of jabs between the two software giants. At the Comdex trade show last month, Ballmer chided an upcoming speech by Ellison, saying, "I think Larry's probably going to give the same tired old view of computing, and I think that's out of step.

"Larry's been talking about ideas that have gone nowhere for years. How long has he been talking about the NC? Six years, seven years? Where did it go? Nowhere. Remember old Raw Iron? It went nowhere."

When Ellison later took the stage, he returned the favor. The PC, he said, "is becoming a network computer; it's turning into an appliance. The only thing left is a browser, Microsoft Office and some games. The only thing new and interesting (on PCs) are the games."

While Microsoft and Oracle compete aggressively and vigorously on the database front, Oracle also is a Microsoft independent software vendor (ISV). As such, Oracle--like any other software seller whose products run on Microsoft operating systems--needs to toe the line in terms of complying with Microsoft application programming interfaces and other guidelines to ensure that its software works on current and future versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Asked if there were any customer reports of interoperability problems involving Windows and Oracle, the Microsoft spokesman said he had no comment.

Oracle's existing 8i database runs well on Microsoft's Windows NT Server product. However, Oracle's 8i product has not passed the slew of tests required to earn Windows 2000 Server certification, according to the Windows 2000 certification Web site.

"Windows 2000's adoption as a server platform in the enterprise will depend strongly on Oracle's positioning of its database on this platform," acknowledged Gartner analyst Chris LeTocq.

LeTocq noted that before Windows 2000 was launched in February, Microsoft executives had stressed the importance of compatibility and had cited specifically the need to iron out some Oracle database-Windows 2000 compatibility problems.

Oracle is developing its next-generation Oracle 9i database, which is due to ship in 2001.

News.com's Wylie Wong contributed to this report.